Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the issue of persecution of Ukrainian Orthodox Church
We requested a Security Council meeting again to draw attention of the international community to a cynical crackdown on canonical Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine, which takes place right before our eyes.
We thank Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, and Vice Chair of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Church’s Relations with Society and Mass Media, Mr.Vakhtang Kipshidze for taking part in this meeting. We should like to stress at once for the record that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) did not ask us to hold today's meeting and did not authorize us to speak on its behalf, nor did its priests and parishioners. We are saying this so that Ukrainian law enforcers do not take revenge for today's meeting on the Church and the people whom they already hold hostage.
10 months ago, on 17 January 2023, at the first meeting of the Security Council on this topic that we called, ASG Brands Kehris expressed concern about the introduction in the Ukrainian Parliament of draft laws that could impose a ban on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At that time, you correctly noted that their adoption could undermine the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief enshrined in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Today, however, Ms. Brands Kehris has found no words to condemn the law that is under consideration by the Ukrainian parliament. It is designed to ban the ancient canonical Orthodox Church. Instead of sounding alarm and demanding that it be revoked, you are here lecturing us on how to better formulate this law so it does not look so awful. Besides, you did not find words to condemn the use of Kiev's law enforcement machine to persecute venerable priests.
On October 19, 2023, the Parliament of Ukraine passed in the first reading the draft law No. 8371 "Amending certain laws of Ukraine regarding the operation of religious organizations in Ukraine", the sole purpose of which is to completely ban the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
If adopted, the said "law" will make it possible to ban in court the activities of any Ukrainian religious organization that is "affiliated with the centers of influence" in Russia. At the same time, those who drafted the law say explicitly what kind of a "religious organization" they have in mind, and that is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The procedure for identifying such affiliation is also tailored to this goal. This is entrusted to the complete discretion of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience headed by Viktor Yelensky, a well-known antagonist of Orthodox Christianity.
If adopted, this act will be a practical step towards the destruction of the most ancient Church with millions of parishioners. Even the Nazi occupiers during the Great Patriotic War did not think as far as that. But the current Kiev regime did.
President Zelensky, who used to be a comedian and showman at the start of his career, promised to bring peace to Donbas. Instead, he unleashed a new round of escalation that led to the current conflict. Now it seems that he is going to live up to the ill fame of the well-known Roman persecutors of Christianity - Emperors Claudius, Nero, Trajan, and Diocletian. Under his leadership, measures are being taken, in the legislative and pseudo-legal, and also in the media framework to eradicate canonical Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine. The only thing missing is the Colosseum arena with the public massacre of Christians. But the Kiev regime is steadily moving towards it. And this is not a figure of speech. On May 2, 2014, in Odessa, an angry mob of Ukrainian nationalists burned alive participants of the peaceful protest against the Maidan whom they had locked up in the Trade Union House. That was done in full view of the entire world. We will never forget that crime.
A large-scale disinformation campaign has been launched against the clergy in order to discredit priests in the eyes of the parishioners and create an image of "accomplices of the enemy". Ukrainian police and SBU, as well as media spread baseless allegations in the information space on a daily basis. They want to get everyone to believe that churches have allegedly turned into weapon depots, ammo and supplies storages of the “aggressor”. All those fakes and hate speech on social networks about "infiltrator priests" have an obvious goal. This is how the Kiev regime is trying to justify the cleansing of the country's religious field and enable radicals of all stripes to indulge in violence and lawlessness.
Seizures of UOC churches and forced unwarranted legal closure of communes have continued since 2019, the latter being disguised as “voluntary conversion” to other denominations. At the same time, as one can see from the videos that UOC parishioners publish on social media, the seized churches remain either closed or empty, since the Kiev regime does not have enough schismatic priests ready to serve in them or parishioners willing to tolerate such blasphemy.
A blatant example of this practice is the expulsion of the monks of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the oldest monastery on the territory of modern Ukraine, a symbol of canonical Orthodox Christianity.
Early termination of the long-term lease agreement with the UOC by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine is even mentioned in reports of the OHCHR, though very subtly. Apparently, that is because of the fear to fall out of favor with Kiev and its Western curators.
I will remind you that attempts to expel the monks from the Lavra have been underway since the beginning of 2023. Ukrainian authorities have made clergy’s stay on the premises conditional on the conversion to an organization called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) which was created, in fact, by decision of former President Poroshenko. In other words, the state is using blackmail to force the monks to change their affiliation, or, more precisely, to become schismatics.
The brethren, led by Metropolitan Paul, decided to stand their ground to the end. For such a daring display of dissent, the "democratic" Zelensky regime, which aspires to become part of the civilized world, arrested the elderly leader of the monastery, from which he was released only on a million-dollar bail. Criminal proceedings against him are underway.
Today, the management of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra Reserve, who work on orders from Zelensky’s regime, is trying to drive the residents out of the monastery by refusing to turn on the heating in its premises. At the same time, they gradually seal off the buildings of the Lavra and transfer them to the schismatics.
Ukrainian authorities conduct nonstop searches in places of worship and other facilities of the UOC. Priests get arrested on criminal charges. The activities of the UOC are banned at the level of local government bodies, despite the fact that such measures are beyond the scope of their authority. This is not just our perception. This is how things actually are, which is backed up by relevant OHCHR data.
At the same time, on November 14, a commission of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine decided transfer the Eletsky and Troitsky monasteries, the Transfiguration Cathedral, the Pyatnitsky and Catherine churches in Chernigov into state ownership, which means these premises were exacted from the UOC. From the very beginning of the commission's work, all of them were closed to parishioners on the pretext of an inspection. People in camouflage uniforms stood guard blocking access.
In January, ASG Brands Kehris said she was aware of three cases of persecution of clergy in Ukraine. The statistics you cited today do not match ours. It has been less than a year, and the number of such cases passed two hundred.
In the past six months alone, OHCHR has put on record 10 cases of physical violence and 6 cases of threats resulting from conflicts among parishioners of different Orthodox communes. This is what OHCHR calls the expulsion of canonical parishioners and priests from their churches. This is a drop in an ocean compared to the real facts.
On March 28, in Ivano-Frankovsk, perpetrators sprayed tear gas into the premises of a UOC church where clergy and parishioners had gathered. Several people were injured and at least one priest was taken to hospital. Although police officers were but a few steps away from the scene, they did not disperse the participants or prevent violence. There was a case when a woman had a miscarriage after a tear gas attack. By the way, this also comes from the OHCHR report.
On November 13, 2023, the Sosnovsky District Court of Cherkassy had a sitting regarding Metropolitan Theodosius of Cherkassy and Kanev, who had been taken in custody on fake charges. Before that, on November 2, 2023, his house arrest (which had started in February this year) was extended by two months. In early September, clerics and parishioners of the Cherkassy diocese sent an appeal to Zelensky demanding that he stop the criminal prosecution of the Metropolitan.
On May 19, 2023, Metropolitan Longin (Michail Zhar), former vicar of the Bancheny Ascention Monastery of the UOC (was relieved of this duty as recently as end of September), was handed a notice of criminal proceedings against him on the ground of inciting religious hatred. On September 11, the case was referred to court.
No one even took into account the fact that the Metropolitan, among other things, is also the founder and head of the orphanage in the village of Molnitsa in the Chernigov Region of Ukraine. The orphanage is home to approximately 400 children, for whom he is a legal guardian. Among them many children with grave health conditions and disabilities: some are HIV positive, others suffer from cerebral palsy. All of them need special and continuous care, which is currently provided by the Metropolitan himself and hired staff. After the beginning of the crackdown by the SBU, Orthodox community and parishioners sounded the alarm: if Mikhail Zhar is arrested, the children risk going homeless.
By the way, Metropolitan Longin, as well as most of the residents and children in the monastery, are Romanians. This being said, on November 3, Zelensky signed a law on promotion of the rights of national minorities. This situation clearly demonstrates how the rights of national minorities are protected in Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly drawn the attention of the Security Council to Kiev's campaign to destroy canonical Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine. We raised this issue at UNSC meetings on January 17 and July 26 of this year. On May 12, the Council held an informal Arria meeting at our initiative titled “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”.
However, Western members of the Council continue to ignore this situation. They dare not to criticize Zelensky, otherwise the question may arise who exactly they are supplying weapons to and for what purposes. After all, Zelensky and his regime are at the complete disposal of the West and cannot make a move without its instructions. Even today, it is unlikely that any of our colleagues would dare to make a reproach to the Ukrainian dictator.
Fortunately, voices of reason are still heard around the world. Reference has already been made today to the interview of Tucker Carlson, a political contributor. He has repeatedly criticized the actions of the Ukrainian authorities with regard to the UOC. He reacted very quickly to the events of December 2022, when the SBU began mass searches of monasteries and churches, condemning such actions as unjustifiable.
I hope UNSC members had a chance to watch his interview with attorney Robert Amsterdam, who is currently defending the UOC against state persecution. It was published online on October 27. In the first 5 days, this webcast received more than 103 million views. This is an excellent proof of people's sincere interest in this topic, which Western mass media try to ignore.
According to Tucker Carlson, “a ban on an entire denomination does not fit into the liberal authorities’ set of values”. He called it a shame that “not only Christian but all confessional leaders did not speak out against the Ukrainian government”.
Those of you who lecture us on the legality of the actions of the Kiev authorities do not understand the depth of this tragedy – partly for political reasons and unconditional support for the Kiev regime, and partly because of ignorance and the lack of understanding of the essence and magnitude of current developments. For many of you, this is a struggle between religious structures with the word "Orthodox" in their names - the UOC and the OCU, one of which is supported by the authorities as "national" - the OCU, and the other, UOC, is persecuted as "collaborators" and "subordinates to Moscow" (which is a lie).
In fact, we are talking about an attempt to reform consciousness of tens of millions Ukrainians, for whom the UOC is their native, original, only and legitimate church, where they have prayed for centuries.
Thus, Zelensky and his clique are heaping coals of fire on head, stirring up religious discord and seeking to destroy the social fabric of Ukrainian society, which they pay lip service to preserving.
Those who cover up for the new-sprung persecutor of Christians in Ukraine, Zelensky, and his regime become accomplices in the heinous crime of the 21st century - the attempted destruction of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Stopping this crime is our shared responsibility.
Right of reply:
I thank all members of the Council who called to uphold the freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Now that our Western colleagues have read out their standard and already worn-out phrases that Ukraine can do whatever it wants (i.e. destroy the church) for they do not care), I would like to suggest that they go online and see hundreds of videos of churches being closed and clergy and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine being beaten. Look up the appeal of the monks of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, read it and compare it with your statements. Perhaps then you will find that your speeches make you complicit in the crimes of the Kiev regime and in justifying those crimes. It is not about Russia, but about ordinary Ukrainians who have been run over by Zelensky's repressive machine.
We certainly did not expect to hear confirmations that some of you understand the depth of the problem under discussion. You lack either real understanding or the political ability to rise above your pro-Kiev bias and realize how much the regime that you defend unconditionally falls short on the values you claim to be promoting.
This topic is not an issue of human rights being raised in the Security Council, as representatives of Western countries enounced ironically. It is a question of security measures, because failure to resolve it could lead to consequences that you cannot and perchance are not able to imagine. Just as you could not imagine what decades of violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories would lead to. Unfortunately, we are no longer surprised by your short-sightedness.
I would like to thank the representative of Ukraine for both directly and implicitly confirming our point that the Kiev regime is fighting against canonical Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine. We also saw a clear case of promoting hate speech from a United Nations podium.